Politics, The Benefit System

The looming Legal Aid cuts

The looming Legal Aid cuts

Under mounting pressure, the government eventually aimed its austerity focus on the legal aid budget in 2010, resulting in the controversial Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012.

Despite strong criticism from those within the profession, LASPO is expected to go into force 1st April 2013. Currently Legal Aid is 1/3 of 1% of total government expenditure, amounting to £2.1 billion/year. Projected savings are up to £395-440 million/year, largely as a consequence of restricting the scope of the legal aid scheme.

Legal aid and welfare
Initially legal aid provisions were not only based on the policy of equal justice and access, but on the notion that early intervention in the form of legal advice is the most effective way of tackling problems. The cuts coincide neatly with the introduction to Universal Credit and other welfare benefit changes, meaning people affected by these changes will not have access to legal expert advice.

One of the hardest hit areas of law (Social Welfare), removes legal aid access to the most vulnerable struggling with debt management, until the situation hits crisis point. At a time when there are more and more people eligible for legal aid, LASPO practically strips the availability to recipients for family law matters and leaves the most disadvantaged in society, out in the cold. Two thirds of the scope on family law issues will be reduced and in private family law cases available only to those facing domestic violence or child abuse.

These Legal Aid changes and the policies shaped by it, aim to make legal remedies dependant on the credit of the client’s case not their financial status. LASPO stands as an expert cost saving revision, reducing the legal aid policy to a skeleton service that seeks only to comply with the UK’s minimum obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Only time will tell the consequences of the governments short sightedness.

By Atoosa Khatiri

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